Data reporting

Utah on pace for record-low refugee arrivals

May 2, 2018

By SHEILA WANG • Standard-Examiner staff

When the 12 Congolese refugee families started their new lives in Ogden through a refugee admission program in 2016, more refugees of different nationalities were expected to join them.

A year-and-a-half later, the program hasn’t resettled any more refugees in Ogden.

“We don’t have enough refugees coming in,” said Aden Batar with Catholic Community Services(CCS), one of two refugee admission agencies in Utah.

Refugee arrivals in Utah have dramatically declined over the past couple years, on par with the national trend, according to data from the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

Only 116 refugees from nine countries resettled in Utah between October 1, 2017 and March 15.

Last fiscal year, more than 700 refugees arrived in Utah, which was already a sharp drop from previous years. From fiscal years 2009 to 2016, an average of 1,100 refugees per year came to the Beehive State.

The drastic drop has taken a toll on Utah’s local refugee admission programs.

“It’s a very difficult time. It has a big impact on our staffing and funding,” said Batar.

The refugee resettlement agency has cut back 15 jobs from the refugee admission program, including case managers who are central to resettlement.

The program is funded by both the federal government and the State of Utah on a per capita basis. The amount of funding is directly related to the number of refugees taken in.

Despite the decline of refugees, CCS still provided case management services to 250 families for a 2-year period. The services include assistance with employment, education and language.

“The need is still there,” Batar said.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), the other refugee admission agency in Utah, is met with the same problem.

“Some programs have been hit hard,” Patrick Poulin, executive director for the IRC in Salt Lake City.

The agency had to lay off five positions last year and left another five other positions unfilled this year, according to Poulin.

The IRC has multiple sources of funding including federal funding from the State Department, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) through the State of Utah, local foundations and private donations.

When Catholic Community Services started the pilot program in Ogden in 2016, the IRC was planning to carry out its own program to resettle refugees in St. George and Provo.

“We have to put that on halt,” Poulin said.

RELATED: Congolese refugees adjust to Ogden, learn English and proper microwave use

The rescue center resettled 177 refugees so far this fiscal year (October – April). It received 330 refugees at this time last fiscal year, according to Poulin.

“The inhumane obstacles imposed have resulted in close to a 50 percent drop in arrivals for us in Utah,” Poulin said in an email.

Poulin said the drastic drop in refugee resettlements in Utah and in the nation is a result of “misguided policies” and “administrative barriers.”

President Donald Trump slashed the annual cap of refugees from 110,000 to 45,000 – the lowest level on record.

Both Poulin and Batar believe the number of refugees is not going to reach the cap this fiscal year, given the slow inflow of refugees the first half of the year.

Over the past nine and a half years, more than 9,500 refugees have arrived in Utah from all over the globe, but predominantly from five countries: Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Trump administration’s travel ban has played a part in the declining number of refugees to Utah and it also affects where refugees are coming from.

Last January, travel restrictions were placed on seven countries — Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. Chad was also on the list but was taken off the blacklist earlier this year.

Utah has taken in more than 1,800 refugees from Somalia since 2009, making the majority-Muslim nation the state’s most common country of origin for refugees. Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, just eight Somali refugees have found their way to Utah.

Meanwhile, no refugees from Iran and Syria have arrived in Utah between last October and this March.

Another large country of origin for refugees to Utah was Iraq. Nearly 1,700 Iraqi refugees arrived in Utah since fiscal year 2009. But none have come to Utah so far this fiscal year, despite the fact Iraq was removed from a revised version of the executive order last March.

Poulin said some 70 percent of refugees that arrived in the U.S. recently were women and children. These restrictions have kept families apart.

“It has an incredible impact on the hope that the refugees have to have better lives,” he said.

Contact reporter Sheila Wang at 801-625-4252 or swang@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook @JournalistSheilaW or on Twitter @SheilaWang7.